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Head of Customer Success, Handshake

Brian Reath

E04

Focusing on Customer Success

E04

Focusing on Customer Success

Focusing on Customer Success

Brian shares how Handshake has grown by focusing on their customers success and balancing and prioritizing attention in their three-pronged market.

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Episode Details

Hosted By
Andrew Verboncouer
Guest
Brian Reath
Show Notes
Transcript

Andrew Verboncouer:  

You're listening to the Seaworthy podcast, episode 4, Focusing on Customer Success. Seaworthy is a podcast about building successful software. Today we're talking about the benefits of understanding, focusing on, and serving your customers with Brian Reath of the Handshake.  


Hey Andrew Verboncouer here. I'm joined by Brian Reath from handshake. How are you doing buddy? 


Brian Reath:   

Good how are you?  


Andrew Verboncouer:  

good I'm doing good thanks for coming down 


Brian Reath:   

yeah no problem


Andrew Verboncouer:  

How was the drive


Brian Reath:   

threw the kids in the car, dog in the back and drove down. Yeah so wasn't too bad -  kids are a little loud. That's all I got. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

It's good - where'd they go? They went to your sisters?


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, they're staying at my brother in law's for the day and then I'm gonna head over there after this. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Nice. 


Brian Reath:   

After I get done with you fools. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Try to get a stop at the macaroon shop, that's always a staple. 


Brian Reath:   

My wife's in Hawaii though. So macaroons will go to waste.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Gotcha. Green Bay's known for that or De Pere, I should say. Their macaroons are world famous,


Brian Reath:   

World famous, well famous in the Wisconsin/UP area anyway.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah. 


Brian Reath:   

I don't know if that means much


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Right.Yeah. Well, for those that don't know, can you tell us a little bit about yourself who you are, what you do, where you're from?


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, so I'm Brian Reath. Obviously like Andrew said, I have done software development, probably for the last 10 or so years since college. And I've kind of jumped around a few different positions. But I started out doing development at a company in Detroit for the Big Three automakers, which was like the dark period of my life. But I moved back up to the up after that. I worked at a company called CCI systems. Basically, as a developer development manager, I managed the IT department for a while. And then eventually I was a business unit manager at at CCI running our managed services group. So I've done a lot around kind of software development and kind of managing development teams. And then managing teams that used products my teams were developing as well. So kind of gained a lot of experience there. And then after CCI, I moved on to a handshake. So I came on a handshake as an engineer actually did some some development consulting for them for a few months before I came on full time. And then very quickly moved into our customer success group about a week into my full time stint at handshake. So for the past year, I've been running the customer success group. I also ran our university sales group for about six months during that period as well. And then just recently, I moved back to our engineering team. So kind of getting back to my roots, throwing off the manager hat a little bit, and going back to an individual contributor role, which has been really interesting last few weeks, so. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

yeah, I mean, that's, that's got to be quite a transition from CCI, which is more corporate environment to handshake, which is obviously a fast growing startup out in San Francisco. Can you talk a little bit about how that transitions been for you? Maybe what some of the nuances are of that? 


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, you know, I think, in general, I've always been kind of a guy that values kind of small teams and kind of, you know, empowering environment, I guess, is one way to say it. So, even at CCI, I think I did a lot of things where I was the one kind of pushing for changes and kind of, you know, building out kind of new product lines and things like that. So, you know, CCI certainly, you know, it's a bigger company, about 500 employees in a lot of different kind of different lines of business. So it certainly a different environment. But, um, I think it was a good experience in general, and just kind of, you know, an inter-preneur type role, right? Where we're kind of doing new business and new business lines, and in an existing company, which was really interesting. But yeah, definitely, like moving to handshake and go into basically, I think it was a 12 person team or so when I started full time. So if I call a different environment, you basically, you know, taking the ownership of whatever you're working on, there's nobody backing you up, there's no right. There's no team of people to to do your work for you, or to push things forward, if you're not going to push it forward yourself. So it's been a it's definitely been interesting, and we've grown quite a bit. I mean, like I said, I think when I started, we're 12. We're at about 40 today. So that's just in that's like, 14, 15 months. Yeah, it's been a, it's been an interesting process, kind of growing the Customer Success and Support team that I was managing from, basically, you know, two or three people to 15 or so, and really building kind of a business from scratch and a lot of ways, so, it's been interesting, you know, but I think it's, it's a, it's been rewarding as well.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, definitely. When, when you talk about being an entrepreneur at CCI, you know, obviously, you have the luxury of maybe a different p&l where you get a budget, you get a lot more resources -  at a startup, you're a lot more scarce, when it comes to that, what are some of the things that they think translated over well from CCI, or maybe that you learned more at handshake as far as, you know, using resources, you know, being lean and kind of trying to do things that create the most value?


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, well, I think it's interesting. So it CCI was you know, like you said, we had a budget, you know, very much kind of, you know, every year we'd sit down and go through that budget process, we'd figured out what, what staff would look like, we'd figure out, you know, basically what we're going to do for that year, and it was kind of very, I would say, like, infrequent planning, right? Like, so we sit down and like, figure out the plan for the next six months, the next 12 months, right, and kind of run with that. And that was pretty much what we stuck with. So I think that was very valuable, I think it's definitely was an interesting experience, just kind of gaining that wisdom, I guess. And like, you know, really understanding that process and getting into p&l, and really understanding how to, how to track that, how to think about that, and things like that. But, um, it handshake is different in a lot of ways. So we're, you know, venture backed company, that's, that's kind of one big difference. Like, there's not as much pressure to be immediately profitable as, as you might have an existing company or a company that's not bootstrapping and division and allowing it to be like a loss leader within their company, right. So a handshake, I think, it's, you know, there's very much kind of whatever we need to do, we're going to do it. And if we need to, you know, pivot and kind of change strategies, week to week or month to month, we'll do that as well. So I think it's just a little less rigid, and a little more fluid as far as planning goes, and like, you know, certainly sitting down up to kind of the last couple weeks, like sitting down every week thinking about, you know, the leadership team, thinking about what we want to do as a company and what our priorities are. And, and in a lot of cases, that handshake like that, that can change month, the month and right now we can kind of adapt to that. So I think that's, that's one thing that's a lot different is just kind of the, the pace of change and kind of the ability to kind of change strategies and change course, like if something's not working out, or we find an area in the company that really needs some more investment. So. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Right. Yeah, I mean, that, you know, that sounds pretty similar to a lot of the startups we hear about, you know, but one of the things obviously, it's better that you can pivot, there's less friction to change that word, maybe a, you know, more corporate environment, you have to go, you have to climb the ladder and tap someone shoulder in order to make things happen. It's good to have that kind of venture backing with I'm sure a lot of resources and stuff that come along with and you guys recently closed that round, I think earlier this year, your series A, is that right? 


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, yeah. So we I, so I came on in June of last year. And our seed round was in March of that year. So March 2015, we raised the seed round, and like I said we've been growing like crazy over the last year or so. And then in February, I believe, late February of this year, we closed our series A. And so the seed round was led by a venture firm called light speed and true ventures. And then our series A was, was led by Kleiner, Perkins out in San Francisco as well, so. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

yeah, so a lot of a lot of bigger name firms and investment companies that have a lot of successes under their belt. So I'm sure that's good to kind of have their vision for what handshake can be and have that backing from them, you know, heard a lot from from kind of their team on other podcasts and other blogs and stuff like that they're definitely a thought leader in in the space and just you know, last week we had designed disruptors on in some of the, you know, a lot of their crew was from there, you know, there was two or three people on there, just kind of talking about startups and thinking about design and design thinking as a way of solving problems. So definitely a good to see that. 


Brian Reath:   

yeah, it's been cool working with all the kind of, the VCs that that we've been involved with, but but Kleiner, especially. So Eric Thang is on our board and kind of let our investment and he was a founding CTO at Hulu and was at Flipboard as well. So it's just been kind of cool to have somebody with kind of the experience in kind of both on me coming from an engineering background, and Eric coming from an engineering background as well, it's been spent nice. And then also just like somebody who's done it, and a few other companies, and like the other members of our board have done in a few other companies as well. So it's, it's just cool to see, like, people that have been through it before have have ran a company, whether it's a enterprise company or a consumer facing company, at handshake, we kind of have different kind of constituent users, then that are very different. So we have, we're, you know, we're working with universities, which is much more of like an enterprise customer, we're working with employers, which is kind of kind of enterprise but in some cases, not really, because like some of these small companies that are recruiting on handshake, might only have one recruiter. And it's really not a sophisticated organization, necessarily, from a manpower perspective, especially. So it's kind of consumer facing in some ways there. And then we have students using our platform as well, which is purely kind of consumer facing play. So I think it's good just to have people with experience across kind of the spectrum of, you know, building out consumer facing businesses like Flipboard or Hulu and like, you know, more enterprise focused businesses as well.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, yeah, and that's a really good point to, you know, the product is, you know, somewhat complex on the back end, but on the front end, you know, obviously, simplifying what jobs need to be done for each one of those users. You know, the goal of a student is obviously, to get a job or an internship or whatever. But the goal of employers to find someone to go over the Career Center is obviously to place people so there's definitely different, you know, different flows that that happen along that journey.


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, what's really interesting about it, I think, at least is, you know, there's kind of different use cases, different jobs to be done, like he said, but, um, you know, especially in our space, like employers, and students are kind of two sides of this market. And we work really closely with the Career Service Center, especially at universities. But what's nice about it is I think they're, they're fairly complimentary user basis. So like the universities and goal is to make sure that there's enough employers coming to their campus and everything their students and the students school is obviously to get a job. And it's the university's goal to make sure their students are getting placed outside of college. So it's just interesting, in a way, well, how we have kind of, you know, different constituents, but in a lot of ways, like their, their goals are complementary to each other. And it makes it a little easier to handle Where's, you know, most businesses that we're trying to get off the ground and kind of serve three different markets would be, you know, a little hard pressed to do that. And, but in our case, I think some of the synergies to use a really horrible word, make it a little easier to manage.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, definitely. I'd be curious to know, if you any of the, I guess, implications or benefits of recruiting at a specific school? I know, like alumni coming back and recruiting from their school, is there a stronger placement in those? You see companies have strong ties to specific schools? And like the psychology of that. 


Brian Reath:   

yeah, I mean, I certainly think there's, there's a pretty big alumni influence at most universities and kind of, so I went to Michigan Tech in the up in the Upper Peninsula. But you look at kind of the companies that recruit there, and it's, it's a lot of places that have placed Michigan Tech grads before, and it's like, when I was at CCI, we used to go recruit out that Michigan Tech just because it was nearby. And like most of most of the employees at that CCI had gone to Michigan Tech or large portion of them had. So I think that kind of Alumni Engagement as we think about kind of what universities care about, around you know, this, this kind of recruiting space, it's definitely keeping their alumni and gauged over time for a number of reasons. But, you know, one big reason is making sure that those alumni are coming back and engaging students and can, you know, hiring students for internships or full time jobs right out of college. Another piece of it too, is, is, especially from an employer perspective, there's certainly kind of friction to recruiting at many schools, right, and, you know, what have handshakes big goals is kind of eliminate some of those frictions, at the very least. But, you know, as you think about kind of recruiters job at a company, you know, they're there, you know, posting jobs to these schools, they're sourcing students from these schools. And a number of ways it might might be LinkedIn and might be the Facebook, it might be right and shake. So, you know, they're kind of going out there and trying to find the students that they'd like to hire. But doing that completely, virtually has some challenges. So most recruiting organizations are going on campus, at least a small set of schools, right. And you as soon as you talk about going on campus, you're talking about you know, traveling, you're talking about geographic restrictions, you're talking about time investment and resources so you know, certainly you know how many schools a a recruiter recruits at our it is kind of limited to the the amount of resources they have within their organization.  So, you know, one of the things handshake is trying to accomplish with with our platform is to democratize like some of the access to universities. So if you look at some of the products in the space that universities are using, to allow recruiters to recruit their students, you know, a recruiter might need multiple logins to recruit it, 10 different schools, 10 different logins are walking into 10 different places, they might be posting the same job to 10 different places, but manually doing that. So there's some features of our platform that eliminate some of those frictions, but there's always going to be some amount of friction to recruiting at multiple schools, right. You know, that's, you know, one of the things the space is kind of trying to grab that address with platforms like handshake. And there's other kind of newer companies out there that are doing a lot of a lot of work around like, the virtual interviewing and kind of, yeah, you know, all of the all of the process and tools around kind of making, recruiting and like interviewing students and accessing talent easier to do remotely without having to invest all the time and to kind of going on campus at every school.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, yeah, that's an interesting point to about them interviewing remotely, have you seen or maybe observed someone on your team, you know, kind of dug into maybe how those virtual interviews play into dem offering jobs, you see more employers offering jobs remotely? Or is it more recruiting, you know, remotely and then trying to get them to relocate? Is there any type of trends that you've seen?


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, I would say, especially in the space we're in, which is kind of internships and new college grads at the very least, right, right now, that's kind of our focus, I think most employers look for these people to relocate, you know, if you don't have a large body of work, you don't have a lot of experience, you know, you know, in a lot of cases, it's hard for employers to kind of hire you straight out of college without a huge track record, and ready to do a remote role. So I would say most companies are looking for new grads to relocate. And so kind of the remote interviewing and kind of virtual interviewing is mostly just an optimization to their recruiting process, and not necessarily a reflection of kind of what they're looking for, from a remote work perspective, right, once they get the job, Right, and that collaborative learning environment, obviously, is better on site immersed in, in that sort of thing. So that definitely makes sense.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

So now, you said, you know, you just recently transitioned out of a customer success role, what are some of - obviously, you guys have grown pretty quickly, you're with over 90% of the Fortune 500, you know, companies use your platform to recruit and get internships and entry level positions, what are some of the biggest things that you've learned in the customer success role in order to help kind of be a catalyst to growing that team, growing the sales team, and just ensuring that your customers, you know, all three and in essentially are getting what they need out of the platform? 


Brian Reath:   

So last year, I came on in June, which was kind of the middle of kind of the implementation season around that wave of 60 schools that we were adding to the five from 2014. And, you know, from a company perspective, like I said, we were small team at the time. And I think a lot of that was just around - a lot of that job at the time was around making sure those implementations went well, and had some consistency to them. And our team was kind of prepared to implement those schools. So a lot of that was around building the team, getting your training practices in place, getting processes in place that we really didn't have before. So it's kind of the typical startup store, I think of, you know, your first few customers, you're kind of just winging it, right? You're learning a lot through kind of every new customer, you bring on board. And as soon as you kind of start scaling that you need to, like, figure out, like, what's the process here? Like, what's the best practice here? What, what can we do on every school, that that adds some consistency and saves us some time, right. So that was my big focus for probably the first six months or so of the customer success role was, was really just building the team and get a level of consistency established and kind of, you know, building out processes, right, and making sure that, you know, every school was getting a fairly standard level of service from from handshake. And that included so when I first started, we, we didn't have a customer support team at all. So, like, we were kind of just handling that it's like a side duty of like, about five different people on the team, right? So we built out a customer support team, like started doing kind of some of the standard kind of measurements and metrics around that, making sure we're optimizing our response time to resolution times, making sure that, you know, as we look, we actually have a schedule of, okay, the support team. here's, when we get tickets, here's how many tickets we should expect. And here's how many people we need to be on tickets at that time to kind of make sure that that we're keeping up with the volume. I think like, one thing is, is kind of my answer to that is, is kind of different today than it probably was a year ago. And kind of what are the as far as kind of, what are the things that we need to be focused on from that, that role, when I first started and kind of took over the customer success team, a lot of it was around, so I'll give, I'll give some context. So over the last two years or so, we've gone from basically zero universities deployed to five universities deployed in 2014, to 65 universities deployed in 2015, to about 180 or so universities deployed this year, in total. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

And did a lot, you know, I know, at CCI, you know, part of your role was working with the support team, as far as, you know, creating that software, did some of that knowledge kind of translate over to that kind of come naturally just kind of know, that side of, you know, being a call center and what it takes?


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, I think it certainly did. And I think I'm, I'm a pretty kind of operational, like, execution focused nine a lot of ways. So, like, some of the other like, I'm not, I wouldn't say a hugely process focus guy, right. So like, even even, even within handshake today, I would say like, our processes are fairly lightweight. But yeah, a lot of the experience from CCI and kind of working with, you know, kind of the, the Network Operations Center team, the call center team certainly applied a lot to this area. So as we looked at, kind of building out a support team, and like, how to manage it, and like what metrics to be looking at, yeah, all those things kind of applied. Yeah, one for one from from what I learned at CCI. So that was kind of nice. But there are quite a few differences as well. So we didn't have phone support at handshake. until about three months ago, we just rolled that out. So in some ways, there was some differences, right? Like, CCI, it was all calls, it was all, you know, phone based support at at handshake. It's, it's, it's more of a broader mix of types of support. And, you know, there's some other challenges to it. So at handshake, we have an account management team that's assigned, you know, each account managers assigned me a couple thousand universities that they're kind of solely responsible for right implementations and kind of their relationship. So we also have that kind of wrinkle in the mix, where we have account managers that are working directly with universities. And, you know, potentially, they're doing some level of support as well, right. It's not just the customer support team that encompasses all of support, quote - unquote, at handshake because there's other other elements to it as well. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

right. And that's a big part of customer success. A lot of times, people think about, you know, when they're building a startup, they want to build the product, they don't think about the support, and what it actually takes to keep iterating, make sure you're getting feedback, doing any interviews you need to do to dig deeper. 


Brian Reath:   

Yeah. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

So that, you know, that's an essential part of launching successful startup is just making sure that you can do those things, right, you know, you're giving them a platform in a way to connect with you - any tips or advice you would give for people starting their own startup, and maybe on the timing of implementing some of those things, whether that's a dedicated support person, a team, what have you? 


Brian Reath:   

I would say, you know, a lot of what we did a handshake was what I would recommend in some ways, so maybe I would start to do it a little bit earlier than we did. But, you know, when you're doing your first few customers, so when we did, you know, four or five universities in 2014, like, I think that was very much the wrong time to start scaling the customer success, right. So in a lot of it was our See, in a lot of ways, it was our CEO, Garrett and a few other people just kind of chipping in and doing the support Customer Success type activities as something they just kept on themselves for a while, and kind of learn the intricacies of so I think there's a lot of value and kind of the founding team, especially, like, getting some experience and kind of learning what the ins and outs of that are at your company. So, you know, there's also going to be a big difference between, like, consumer focus type companies versus enterprise companies. So I think in our case, I would, you know, classify the university side much more as, like an enterprise type type business. So if you're in a startup and, you know, are focused on kind of more of that market or a market that's, that's more enterprise-y I think, you know, what handshake did certainly applies in a lot of ways. So, so I think at the start, you know, the founding team, kind of handling those responsibilities, kind of the first thing I would say is the way to go. And then I think as soon as you see kind of traction, you see, kind of your customer base starting to scale and getting to a point where, in our case, we went from five schools to about 65 schools, you know, knowing that's coming and starting to figure out, like, how do you scale that is, is, you know, the next step.  So yeah, I think in our case, that worked out fine, like having kind of one person I'm responsible for, for building out that team, and figuring out how to scale it, how to establish some processes, you know, what types of people you need to hire, you know, I think that all kind of needs to flow probably from, from one person that's kind of, you know, figuring out all the intricacies of that and, like, kind of, you know, planning it out from a high level and then kind of building out a team to support that. So, in our case, you know, we focused on, you know, building out an account management team that could handle each university account that we were deploying and kind of be kind of a smooth transition from, like the founding team being very hands on to an account management team being fairly hands on. Yeah, if you go directly to kind of like a customer support model, where it's all like ticket based or phone based, I think like, it can be jarring to, especially some enterprise customer. Yeah, definitely one point of contact to work with. So I think the way we did it is basically moving from the founding team, to a set of account managers who were focused on each account to the building out a customer support team behind the account managers who are breaking them up on more day to day things. And then the account managers are there to focus on more, more specialized...


Andrew Verboncouer:  

right, more high level type stuff. 


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, yeah. And like, you know, over time, more and more, our account managers are becoming kind of a consultative resource to each, each customer. So, rather than an account manager doing emails all day, and like, basically a glorified kind of customer support tickets all day through their inbox, you know, we've transitioned a lot of that activity on to our support team, and kind of redefine that account management role over time. I think that's a pretty natural progression going from, like I said, like founding team, to account managers to support and then redefining everybody's role throughout that process, it does change. And I think over time, you also by allowing kind of your founding team, and then your account managers to be more strategic role, more of a consultative role, you upgrade kind of the level of service, you're actually giving the customer so it's wrong, or just dealing with issues now, it's, we're dealing with the issues through our support team, but we're also you know, being a resource to to our customers, and helping them do a better job and in a number of areas. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

right, and I'm sure they, you know, they appreciate that too. And that face to face or even, you know, someone checking in from an account management position, like, Hey, how are things going, they have that, you know, they have the human point of contact, as well as, you know, the live chat, the ticket based support, which has been around for a while, but we know, you know, if you had a problem with your cell phone, and you hop on at&t calm, and you hop on live chat, it's not a great experience.


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, like, we found that out as well. Like, live chat is only good if the live is actually true, right. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Right. 


Brian Reath:   

If you can get back to customers via live chat, and like, a fairly rapid manner. Like, it's really you're breaking a pretty key expectation of live chat. And, like, customers, like, are not happy with that, so. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Right. Yeah, so do you guys use live chat now? 



we used to, we actually transitioned away from that, just for that reason, right? Like, it's, you know, if you're not going to do like, 60, 120 second response times, like, it's not gonna work out. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, do you use intercom or drift, or anything? 


Brian Reath:   

we use intercom for kind of, you know, basically, like pushing kind of messages and notifications out to people within the app. Yeah, we don't use it for chatting, support.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Gotcha.


Brian Reath:   

And you mentioned kind of the face to face time of the kind of the account management side, I think, like, one, that's another thing that, that we, we, I would say, struggled with over the over the past year is like, you know, as you're doing your first few implementations with customers, right? Like, it's, it's, I think, very necessary to be on site to beginning face time with those customers, and like, really be a set establishing kind of deep relationships with those initial customers, especially the problem with that is it doesn't scale, right. So right, doing 65 customers, and being on site with everyone said, Is this his own set of challenges? Yeah, and then doing like, 100 hundred and 20 customers burdens that we added this year is like a whole other scale of, of challenges. So that's another thing we've kind of, you know, adapted to over time. And I would, you know, I think most startups, especially on the enterprise side, are running this as they scale, right? Like, you want to be very, very hands on with your first first few customers. But you have to figure out kind of processes and, you know, more asynchronous ways of working with your customers over time, or it's just not going to scale with it like you're going to write, you have to get to a point where you can scale customers without scaling one to one your headcount. And like, that's one thing we've, we've done quite a bit of, it's just like a bunch of different strategies around like, how we scale our team and our customer base without that relationship being wonderful. So yeah, that a lot of things around like, asynchronous training, and like doing, you know, remote trainings, Virtual Training isn't like doing less have having a less of a need to be on site at every customer as much as we were last year and the year before, right. And I think that's a trend that every, you know, every company needs to be on to really scale out their customer base.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, yeah, it goes to the old, you know, kind of standard startup approach that do things that don't scale it first, yeah, I'm sure that you learned a ton, that you can then start to implement those processes after that, but without kind of going through the hard points, and, you know, hearing the things, maybe they wouldn't tell you, if you were on the phone. Yeah, you know, going through with them, you'll learn a lot of the intricacies of that and can start to implement that.


Brian Reath:   

And like I said, I think a lot of this has to do with where we're at now. And a year ago, and the year before that, like Nate, I definitely agree that, you know, having that face time doing some customer development, like figuring out like, what, what they need, what they want, what their problems are, especially with as we're kind of deploying our product within those organizations. Like, there's no substitute for that learning experience over the last year, year and a half. And as we kind of deploy our first customers, but then you have to very quickly shift in like, you have to figure out where this shift actually happens. Your company, but you very quickly shift to like, okay, we just doesn't scale like, oh, now at a point where we need to scale this out and like, take the learnings that we we did pick up for initial customers and apply them to all customers in a more scalable way.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, definitely. The other thing to from customers to success standpoint was that you had a user conference, can you tell us a little bit about that? And maybe the role that that played? Is that something you guys continue to do?


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, yeah. So we, we did our user conference, the first week of June this year, it was in Chicago. And yeah, it was, it was amazing, actually, it's, it's one of those kind of seminal events, I think, at least for us, it was kind of getting, you know, we had about 150, 180 people from, I think around 70, 75 different universities that came to the user conference. And I don't know, it's just interesting, kind of getting face to face time with both customers that have been on the platform for year two, and some customers that are kind of deploying the platform now. And I think it's like, it's been hugely kind of influential in a lot of ways of like, really kind of getting that word of mouth out there about handshake, especially in kind of the, the niche that we're in. So, you know, we held it Monday and Tuesday in Chicago of the first week of June, and then kind of the National Conference of Colleges and Employers was Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of that week in Chicago as well. So we kind of time that with a big national conference. And just kind of the, the bump in kind of word of mouth and positive conversation going on around handshake throughout that week was, was well worth it. And I think, you know, just just getting in front of customers, and like, having customers able to be talking to each other is, is hugely valuable. And I don't think there's really any substitute to that, like, you can do like a webinar and, like, have people asking you questions or, you know, you can go on site at some of these universities and be more one on one handshake. Yeah, that one universal, but getting kind of this collaborative environment built out is, is so essential to kind of, in a lot of ways, you know, making current customers happy, but also kind of building buzz in the space and kind of making sure that when your, your sales team is talking to customers, like they're hearing that, okay, this university, talk to this other university, that's a current customer of ours, and they heard nothing but great things right, at the user conference was great, like, they heard, you know, you know, nothing but good things really like that. I think the user conferences kind of a key element of us making sure that's happening, that people are collaborating. 



Yeah, and that in that strategy of hosting it right before at the same location as, yeah, this national conference, I'm sure helps because people that weren't there, I'm sure they - Hey, we were just at, you know, we've been here all week, we're at this handshake user conference, and kind of snowball from there.


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, it was great.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Good. So you mentioned, you know, you translated over from or transferred over from customer success, to now back to the engineering team, where you started, what are some of the things you've kind of learned or carried with you? Are you still doing some of those customer service type roles? Or are you really just kind of now, you know, into the deep end of engineering and in code all day?



Yeah, it's been an interesting transition. And I think it's, it's exactly that it's a transition, you know, I've pretty much moved out of all kind of day to day stuff on the customer success side at this point. And I've moved into a role in our engineering team, where I'm focused on kind of student side product. So like I said before, kind of that more consumer focus side of our products. And a lot of it is about, you know, optimizing, building out features and building out a platform that optimizes for, you know, activation rates and retaining students and making sure we're, we're not just engaging a student in this kind of transactional, I want an internship type of way, which is important, and we need to do that, but also how do we make the platform valuable to a student throughout kind of that their life at college and really beyond? So how can we, you know, build out resources and content for those students that actually makes them want to log into handshake on a fairly frequent basis, rather than just kind of the once a year when they're looking for that, that internship or the writing for their first full time job. 


Brian Reath:   

So it's been really interesting. And, you know, I think it's, it's certainly a transition, like, I think there's some stuff from the customer successful, there's a lot of things from the customer success role that that certainly translate over and make me a little bit more I think, like, customer driven. And if I were just an engineer off the street, who just coming into handshake, right, but it's a little different as well, just because on the customer success side, especially, at least right now, you know, we serve all three kind of user basis. So employers, universities and students, but especially from an account management implementation perspective, on the customer success team, we're very focused on the university side and making making those implementations go well, and then kind of making them successful on the platform over time, once the implementation is over. But moving into the student focused roles a little different, right? Yeah, cut the university side is very kind of enterprise-y, like implementation, and like data integrations and things like that, like the student side is, it's more of a, you know, consumer app, in a lot of ways, and I think there's just like, a mindset shift my, in some ways, that's, that's a transition.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, yeah, that's good. And when you think about, you know, focusing on the universities, they're kind of the key to the equation when it comes to getting companies, you know, if they say, Hey, we're using handshake, even if it was a bad experience, students would have to use that if they wanted to find jobs, not saying that it is, but just saying like, they kind of hold the key, so focus on making that, you know, that interaction and that application flow make sense. It's kind of a draw. 



Yeah, it's certainly been our big focus for the past several years, actually just makers, that university experiences as good as humanly possible. But I mean, I mentioned I'm on our student side engineering team, right. So it's just now and kind of the last six to nine months or so has been kind of the first time we've started to focus teams at handshake on the student employer side as well. So, you know, we've built out like a product organization, and built up the engineering organization to a point where we're starting to, you know, specialize a bit, you know, so now we have a few people focused on student side product, including me, a few people focused on employer side product, including a designer, a product manager, and in a few engineers, and then kind of that, that I won't say legacy, but that that existing kind of university side team that's, that's focused on that. So we're just now kind of transitioning as a company to being exclusive from being exclusively focused on the university side to kind of more aligning our teams across these kind of user base verticals, and starting to optimize and in different ways for each of those different kind of types of users.



Yeah, and that makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, a lot of the stuff we focus here is just building empathy for what, you know, someone's role is what they have to do, what's the job, and it sounds like, that's where you guys are doing there, you know, instead of focusing people across, you know, all three, you can kind of build empathy for the student, if you're on the student team, and really focus on making those interactions as good as they can be based on, you know, those users so that. 


Brian Reath:   

yeah, and everybody's interacting with each other throughout this process. And employers are working with the university that like, go to the career fair to do some on campus, interviewing, the students are working with their career center, and the employers are working with students and doing interviews and kind of, you know, looking at students for roles.  But, you know in a lot of ways, I think they all have different kind of needs as well. So, like that they're all working together, but they're doing very different things, right, from a, you know, a goals perspective. So, having teams like our students, I team has been doing a few like user studies and like going on on campus at a few different universities have kind of San Francisco area. So I think we've, we've been to Stanford and Berkeley at this point, like, are doing a few other kind of, you know, on site user studies at some universities out there. And just like being able to do that, and being able to talk to students and like, figure out what their pain points are, and what their goals are, what they're going through, I think, is, it's so valuable for us long term to actually build out a product that really resonates with that user base, where if we were just working with universities, and very, very focused on that, like, we're never going to hit some of those, you know, some of those pain points, I think it's been good, like, build some empathy for each kind of user base, like you said, and then actually start making changes to the product that actually reflects some of those learnings and actually pushes pushes the company forward.



So one of the things I guess we didn't talk about is that you're kind of splitting time between upper Michigan and San Francisco -  can you tell us a little bit more about that, and flying out of Iron Mountain International. 


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, Iron Mountain International - Ford International Airport. But yeah, so so I've been, like I said before at handshake about 15 months or so. And I've been, I'm a pretty pro remote guy as a whole. So like, you know, like, I'm one of those guys like, following everyone on Twitter, and like reading articles, and like, you know, really, really bought into kind of the remote work lifestyle in some ways, but it's also like, I've had a kind of a leadership role at the company, I've been kind of doing a lot of things that have involved like, building teams, and kind of making sure things are operating at peak efficiency and things like that. So being on site is pretty important as well, for, especially for the role I was in, but but also now, so I've been splitting time 50-50 between kind of my, my, my home in the Upper Peninsula. It seems like you guys have a monopoly on upper peninsula tech people interviews. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, so far.



But yeah, I'm from Norway, Michigan, I grew up in the Upper Peninsula. So, you know, I live there now, I have a wife and two kids. So like, I'm flying back and forth, my wife stays at home and takes care of the kids and tries not to kill me, and I'm, I'm out in San Francisco, basically, two weeks every month, and then I'm back home two weeks, every month and it's gone well so far, actually, it's, it's been a good mix of, you know, being in the office like fast paced startup life, you know, really interacting with everybody, like, on a pretty frequent basis, like getting all the meetings out of the way, like really, really talking to people and collaborating and then being able to go home and work from my basement and like, get get work done without a ton of interruptions, right. It's, it's been an interesting balance, both from like, a personal kind of lifestyle perspective, but also from a from a work perspective, too, because it is, I think there is value in in both, right, like being kind of home and having kind of a little bit of lack of interruptions and being able to get stuff done, and then being out in the office and being able to collaborate pretty closely with people. So it's been good. I think it's, you know, it's a, it's been a pretty solid balance so far. And I think it's all kind of win win for me at this point. Yeah, we'll see how it keeps going. 



yeah, good. Yeah. Like you said that the big city feel, and San Francisco, kind of a startup hub. 


Brian Reath:   

yeah, I mean, Norway, MI is just like San Francisco


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Norway's just a step below. Yeah, I think we talked to Ben, he said, you know, Marquette's up there, too. So there all three pretty similar but yeah, you know, disconnecting and going to, to Norway, and or yeah, Norway now, little bit of that North Woods feel, I mean, 


Brian Reath:   

yeah. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

It's way smaller than Green Bay and Green Bay feels pretty small.


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, absolutely.


Yeah. So when, you know, one of the last things I wanted to kind of talk about is, you went from customer success to engineering, customer success, you know, what are what are some of the things that kind of handshake wide that, you know, how do you guys measure success? And how do you, you know, that when you had five universities that it was time for you to start scaling and really ramp up sales teams to get 65. And then onboarding 100 plus this year, were some of the key indicators and metrics from a startup perspective, that kind of the whole team adoption and buys into. 


Brian Reath:   

I would say, we kind of lucked into, I think the hardest kind of transition is basically going from that five to 65. And that's seeing when that's coming, and if it's going to come is is probably the most difficult kind of transition for most companies. I think, in our case, we kind of lucked out in that, like, we had a pretty small team, and like maybe two people out there doing sales throughout that kind of process, two or three people doing sales throughout that process. And we just got a lot of traction, like, pretty quickly, and then we had to, like, ramp up after the fact, right? Like, okay, we've, we've got 60 customers coming, we better hire some people, we better get going here. Like, we better figure this out, we better make it happen. Right? So I think not every company like How's that? I think there's, you know, a lot of lot of good timing. In our case that that happened in when I came in last year in June, and kind of the middle of that, that 60, 65 new school kind of wave it was very much like getting catching back up. And like getting to the point where we actually could handle that workload. And like, at least, you know, moderately successful, right. So I think that was, you know, like I that phase, I wouldn't really point to many KPIs that we went through that really helped us because I think we kind of lucked into it in one ways, and, like, really got a lot of good customer traction early in, like that had to scale after the fact.



Right. do you attribute that customer kind of, I guess, getting buy in and getting them on the platform? Was it word of mouth from the five schools or is it like, like you said, a little bit of timing the marketplace is kind of the market some apps out there are not...



Yeah, I think a lot of it was timing, to be honest, you know, there's, I won't go into all of it. But there's kind of some things happening within kind of the market we're in, especially on the university side that, you know, pushed a lot of that forward. And like I said, Look, that is definitely lock and then, like, Garrett, our CEO is really good at kind of building interest and building buzz and kind of get very energetic Yeah, yeah, so I would attribute a lot of it to him as well. And kind of the early sales team we put together which, which, like I said, was not a lot of people. But I think we just did a really good job and had some kind of unique talents on the team that could have made that possible and yeah, the market kind of shaping up the way it did, especially last year certainly didn't hurt either.



Right. Did you get any feedback on why schools are willing to switch over you said market and stuff but like coming from a small team a small young team yeah perhaps you know this is obviously a big problem for them care centers are measured on success and placement rate they have to answer to you know their boss...



Yeah, I think a lot of it is I mean it's a unique space right i mean so these people work day in day out with college students they're like life's work to make college students successful and to like make sure they're like going down a career path that makes sense for them and give them the most fulfilling life possible right and and really that's I mean a lot of what gets me excited about handshake. tues is where we're playing in that exact same space. But if you think about from a you know University Career Services especially perspective you know startup of like 23, 24 year old you know fresh out of college you know young professionals is appealing to them right like it's like seeing a success story is is something that you know they do that they're in that day in and day out and like seeing like young people be successful is something that that they're they're all for. So I think there's some element to that where we're you know we're in a market where kind of young scrappy, like do anything to be successful type type people are are valued and looked looked upon as as a good thing right. So I think that that was helpful. 


Brian Reath:   

And then I think from there to like the other the other pieces, you know we have there's there's early adopters in our space just know there are in every other space. So there's a lot of people who, you know, outcomes of college whether a college is worthwhile investment, what's the what is the ROI on going to call it getting a four year degree like there's all these conversations going on around kind of these topics kind of nationally and internationally right now. So there's a lot of people within the space who are looking at things like that, and are open to change and open to a company that maybe, you know, it's not as, you know, a product that's not as full featured at at least at the time rather than others in the market. But it's iterating and improving at such a rapid pace that doesn't want to be involved in that and they want to be be will be involved and kind of helping shape the future of the product and the company. So I think in a lot of ways, like the incumbents in the space, you know, worked as responsive to those some of those needs as as they could then right. And there's kind of a market opportunity, especially among kind of those early adopter type people who are looking to be involved in something and something over over the course of time that resonated with some of the customers as well. And I think that's, that's part of what got us from, you know, zero customers to where we are today. 



Yeah, and part of that is right, is feeling the pain and, and being driven towards a company that's more innovation focused, and you're willing to take some, some risks and change things from the way they've been done. 


Brian Reath:   

I think there and I think there's so many markets like that out there, you look at any space where there's like a relatively concentrated niche or, or some niche that a company's carved out for themselves in kind of these small to medium kind of enterprise areas, like a lot of those markets, you can say that about as well, if there's an incumbent that's been there for a while, you know, maybe they're not as responsive to their customer needs as they have been, maybe they're more at that point where they've kind of built out a product, they haven't established customer base, and now they're just kind of writing it from that point on, right. Um, you know, the, our market is no different than I think a lot of those where were, you know, a small startup company that can sell a vision and can actually innovate their product and iterate on it quick enough to kind of show that they're, they're serious about it can get some traction with customers that are that are looking to be that are looking to change the game or gain some efficiencies in some ways that the incumbent companies aren't providing to them.


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah, definitely. I mean, you just look no further than Uber and you know, companies like Airbnb companies like that, that, you know, it's not a new space. It's just a new take...


Brian Reath:   

It's sort of a sexy space. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Right


Brian Reath:   

Like hospitality. And like taxis aren't like the most sexy industries, but they can be disrupted. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Yeah. 


Brian Reath:   

And you can build the company around that. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Definitely. Well, thanks again for coming on the show was great, great chatting, anything? Where can people find you? Handshake? 


Brian Reath:   

I'm you know, handshake is joinhandshake.com if you guys want to look us up. I'm on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @bjR-E-A-T-H @bjreath, that's probably the best place to hit me up. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

Cool, and then a little backstory actually met Brian at a startup week in Green Bay, probably, what was it? Two years ago, three years ago? 


Brian Reath:   

I think it was three years ago. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

We started a dating app anyway, we didn't pursue it after that but...


Brian Reath:   

mingle, man. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

mingle. Yeah. And then I actually worked with Brian for a little bit at CCI contracting and then led the team there full time before starting headway so kind of that's how we met and we've done a little work with the handshake team as well and yeah just thanks again for coming on. Just wanted to add that backstory to it. 


Brian Reath:   

Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me. 


Andrew Verboncouer:  

thanks guys. Thanks for listening to Seaworthy. Connect with us on Twitter @SeaworthyFM and make sure to subscribe, ask questions and leave feedback on the remarks app.We'll see you again in two weeks.


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